Experiences in Practice: The Role of Project-Based Learning at Warren New Tech

August 2, 2017
National Center for Learning Disabilities

For as long as he can remember, James Woodall has found the traditional classroom experience frustrating.

A teacher gives a lecture on historical events he knows he’ll be tested on, but he can’t concentrate. He fidgets, he can’t keep his mind on the topic, and he’s distracted by a number of stimuli around the room: a nearby student tapping his pencil, his friend across the room and the social plans they have after school, the reading he has to do in another class. James was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and receives services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Yet even with the accommodations and protections students like James are entitled to, a problem remains: The very structure of most schools—the neat rows, the exclusive reliance on lectures, the single way students are required to demonstrate learning—can impede some students’ educational success. But the vision and practice of his school, Warren New Tech High School, in the rural town of Warrenton, North Carolina, works for James. It changes the structure of learning.

Like the nearly 200 New Tech Network schools around the country, Warren New Tech provides James greater agency to master content and gain 21st century skills essential to his future success. Recently, his history teacher, Michael Williams, assigned James and his classmates a project that connects events in the Civil War with key events in North Carolina’s local history. James was able to take a leadership role in this collaborative group project, conduct interviews with local community members, and present his findings to those community members, his classmates, and teachers. James and his classmates thrive in this environment where learning is relevant and engaging. One hundred percent of students in the class—including others with ADHD—will go on to some form of postsecondary education this year. James plans to enter a two-year program at Vance Granville Community College and later transfer to a four-year school to study broadcast communication and journalism.

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